Climate Change forces debate on indigenous seeds and Agriculture
By Anna Brazier
Climate Change has become a major threat to lives and livelihoods in Zimbabwe , Africa and the rest of the world as the weather becomes increasingly less predictable.
Farmers are going to have to come up with new ways to deal with the emerging problems.
Searing temperatures, dwindling water supplies, declining soil fertility and increasing pest and disease plagues are part of the baggage that Climate Change brings.
One way of dealing with some of the problems may be to look back at how our ancestors coped with their environment.
Indigenous knowledge systems have shown to offer a lot to modern farmers trying to tackle Climate Change challenges.
Indigenous crop varieties and livestock, in particular, give farmers a diverse gene pool to draw on with crops and breeds that were selected to thrive in different climates and environments.
It was therefore not surprising that the seed expo section during The Good Food Fest held recently in Harare, Zimbabwe had farmers from across the country selling and exchanging a huge range of varieties.
I identified at least 4 different varieties of finger millet, 3 of pearl millet, 4 sorghums and cowpea and bambara nut varieties too numerous to mention.
In terms of maize alone there were blue, red, orange and speckled seed varieties all with different growing requirements, season length, drought-tolerance and nutrient composition.
These seeds could hold the solutions for farmers of the future.
Meanwhile in the livestock section indigenous chickens, quails, rabbits and a turkey paraded for the crowds.
The Good Food Fest Organised by the Zimbabwe Traditional and Organic Food Forum brings farmers from all provinces of Zimbabwe.
A day before the festival the organisers hold a farmer’s dialogue where participants talk about the challenges that they face.
A topic that inevitably comes up is lack of markets for traditional crops particularly small grains such as sorghum and millet and traditional legumes.
Several local policies support the production and consumption of small grains and legumes for climate resilience as well as to tackle malnutrition since they are higher in micronutrients, protein and fibre than the more widely-grown maize.
Climate Change is projected to have a negative impact on food security and health and to increase the risk of malnutrition, particularly among children.
Wider production and consumption of these crops would be a partial solution but prices are unfavourable, markets small and the labour involved in cultivating these crops is intensive making them less attractive.
Maize is still the main crop that is supported through pricing measures and consumers have learnt to see traditional crops as inferior.
One of the ideas behind the food festival is to increase the market for these kinds of crops.
The pull being used to promote the traditional crops is improved health.
Non-communicable diseases such as diabetes, cardiovascular problems and cancers are on the rise and health practitioners are advocating a nutritious traditional diet as part of the prevention and treatment of these conditions.
If more people buy these products farmers are likely to grow larger amounts of the crops and invest in labour-saving technologies.
This in turn will bring the prices down opening up the foods to a wider income audience.
Another idea behind the festival is to promote climate smart agricultural techniques.
Agriculture is one of the main contributors to Climate Change in terms of the greenhouse gases released into the atmosphere from agricultural activities.
Climate smart agricultural practices are designed not only to reduce emissions but to actually draw greenhouse gases from the atmosphere and sink them into plants and the soil.
Many of the farmers at the festival were showcasing climate-friendly organic production techniques and agroforestry while others were advocating a more plant-based diet where consumers eat more legumes and less meat.
The rationale behind the latter is that livestock production emits huge amounts of methane, a potent greenhouse gas.
The Good Food Fest has become a movement that brings urban consumers from all walks of life in touch with small-holder farmers and food processors in an event that helps us understand where our food comes from and will ultimately help Zimbabwe to adapt to as well as mitigate Climate Change.
The festival is something that people in Harare are starting to associate with spring.
The jacaranda trees are blooming, the temperatures build up and for one weekend the city comes alive with the delicious aroma of traditional food emanating from the botanical gardens.
The Good Food Fest is now in its fourth year and is growing stronger, attracting people from across Zimbabwe in a day devoted to celebrating traditional food, traditional seeds and Zimbabwean culture.
Great bands play local music and children cavort in the Kidszone while their parents explore the numerous stalls selling cooked food, local produce, small livestock, local seeds, showcasing livestock and food processing technologies.
The festival is about fun but it has a serious side.
About the author: Anna Brazier is a Climate Change communications consultant based in Zimbabwe. She is the author of the book, “Climate Change in Zimbabwe for Planners and Decision Makers’.
A trustee of ACCCKF, her work involves supporting small holder farmers to improve their resilience.